The column I was trying to write last week posted today: success.
Ooh, that’s a good topic. I have a flat-out hard time imagining not writing for publication, ’cause I’ve wanted to be a writer, which I defined as “somebody with books on the shelves” my whole life. It boggles my little brain that people are willing to put in such enormous amounts of work without an end-goal of publication in mind, though I’ve been trying to come around to the idea of it, and what I’ve more or less realized is that all that’s really critical is that the person doing the writing is happy with it. I’d call all of the things you listed as agent-goodness things great successes. It’s all so *individual* and stuff. Like we’re all different people, or something!
I think Harlan Ellison has a point when he says that the hard part is not becoming a writer, but staying a writer…even when you’re published, the industry itself can be a pretty thankless place to be.
My mother was published by Robert Hale throughout the 70s, with about a dozen novels in print, but then they cut their Gothic Romance line. But she kept on writing and still does – she was surprised to be published, probably wouldn’t have bothered if my father hadn’t sent off her mss, and writes because she likes writing. I’m much the same. If I stop being published, I’ll keep on writing, because I get a lot out of it.
If I stopped being published, I would likely still write…but with the hope that I would one day again be published. Because to me it’s the sound of one hand clapping unless someone reads it. Is a storyteller a storyteller if the only one they tell the story to is themselves? At this point, my answer to that is No.
I think a writer needs to think about their goals and what they will be happy with. I totally agree with your article, that writing has to be loved for its own sake, or the writer is cheating themself.
Although I will say that as currently unpublished writer, I am striving for the day when more than a few people will read something I have written and “get it.” Part of what makes writing so special is when someone else is touched by what you have written, and sometimes that gets confused with publication and commercial success.
It is always good to be reminded of what really matters 🙂
I just think of all the now-famous, revered writers/composers/artists who never published anything until after their deaths. Or whose works weren’t at all acclaimed. I think they created because they loved to create and had something to say. Producing the art is an end in itself. Getting published is icing on the cake.
Emily Dickinson springs to mind. Whose work would you rather have produced–Dickinson’s, or, say, Joyce Kilmer’s? I think that I shall never see/ a poem lovely as a tree. Wildly popular in his day, and still semi-famous, but how embarrassing in the posthumous long run!
I long for publication. I’m working for publication–busting my ass, in fact. But if the choice ever came down to writing books I believed in, and those books never being read by anyone but my circle of friends during my lifetime, or writing books I didn’t believe in, and having those books sold from the shelves of every bookstore in North America…screw it, life is too short for writing bad books.
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